What is a 'tourist tax' and which UK towns might use it?

A tourism boss in Cornwall has admitted that a tax on visitors to the area could be a possibility in future.

But Malcolm Bell, Chief Executive of Visit Cornwall, said other holiday hotspots would ideally need to do the same thing.

Bell said the idea of a tourist tax on visitors to the area "could work", but a decision shouldn't be rushed, to ensure proceeds of the levy are properly invested, and that it doesn't negatively impact the area's tourism industry.

Tourism taxes in the UK have become a topic of discussion as local councils look to recoup some of the costs they incur through the cost of infrastructure and services used by visitors. Thanet Council in Kent is considering the introduction of a tourist tax in popular seaside resorts like Margate and Broadstairs, and it has also been suggested that Cornwall should introduce something similar.

Bell said the issue needs to be carefully considered, pointing out that if a specific tourist tax were to be implemented, it would have to be for more than just Cornwall.

He said: "There is no point in Devon not having one and us having one. Something to consider is there is already a tourist tax as over 30% of visitors spend goes into tax. We're the second highest tax visitor economy in Europe: in France you pay 5.5 per cent, whereas here we pay 20 per cent.

"The normal argument would be we need some distribution of the money that already goes to the majesty's treasury to instead go back into local levels."

A tourist tax usually consists of a fee that applies per person per night, and is usually payable locally when you check out of your accommodation. The aim is to manage over-tourism and improve the tourism sector by recouping costs needed to manage the area.

Rates can vary, and often depend on the type of accommodation, but the amount of the tourist tax is usually decided by the city or the municipality and can change annually.

More and more destinations around the world are introducing tourist taxes, including a large number of European countries and cities.

A variable per day tourist charge, reaching up to €3.25, is currently in place in parts of Spain, including the Balearic Islands and Barcelona, while taxes were also recently introduced in Bali.

Popular destinations like Barcelona, Amsterdam and the Canary Islands are introducing measures to combat over tourism

Venice is due to trial a €5 tourist tax for day trippers from April, while Florence is considering new restrictions after the director of the Galleria dell’ Accademia said it had been “crushed by tourism”.

In the Netherlands, a new set of “Amsterdam Rules” has been introduced to deter stag parties from visiting the capital, following an ongoing backlash from residents and lawmakers against party going tourists in the city.

Tourists visiting Greece during the high season (March to October) will also have to pay an additional “climate crisis resilience fee”, ranging from €1.50 (£1.30) to €10 (£8.60) per night.

In the Algarve, a new tourist tax has now been brought in - including for people staying in caravans and camping. In a press statement the Algarve has said that all tourists will have to pay an all-year-round tourist tax for overnight stays for each person over the age of 12.

Tourist taxes have recently been introduced in Venice. (Stock image: Getty)
Tourist taxes have recently been introduced in Venice. (Stock image: Getty) (Michael Duva via Getty Images)

Thanet District Council, which has popular locations including Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate under its jurisdiction, is also considering introducing a tourist tax.

A Tourism Review Working Party, set up by the council to investigate "the negative impact of tourism on the district" and identify measures to mitigate such impact, including a tourist tax within a range of recommendations.

Its report identified the main issues caused by a boom in tourist numbers as public toilets, waste, beaches, traffic and financial management.

Recommendations within the report to mitigate those issues include levying additional council tax on second homes, as well as: "when permitted, levying a modest tourism tax on overnight stays".

Another recommendation was: "ensuring holiday lets contribute to funding the costs they impose - via council tax or business rates."

Manchester has already introduced a tourist tax - with a £1 charge added to the cost of a room per night since 1 April, 2023. The tax is capped at 21 successive days.

A Cornwall committee report highlighted that Cornwall gets around four million holiday visits and around 12 million day visitors per year, which is reflected in the value of the sector to the economy.

Tourism bosses say that figure shows that holidaymakers want the local surroundings to be looked after - and environmental services to protect the areas and its wildlife would benefit from the tax.

A tourist tax would ideally look after the environment and consider local communities, Bell said, with the money going back into Cornwall.

He said: "We have 85% repeat business in Cornwall - holidaymakers who regularly return would want the levy to help Cornwall and its residents. If holidaymakers want to contribute, if they think it's going to the right cause, I wouldn't mind.

"That to me means yes they would be pleased to see that - if they know where it is going. People are cynical and want reassurance that their extra payment is going on something that is appropriate. But if it is just another levy added onto VAT and taxes? That is probably not what people want to see."

He said neither Cornwall Council nor the government have any intention of implementing a tourist tax, and a similar levy rolled out in Manchester from April last year cannot be applicable to the South West.

"We are looking in the very early stages of what Manchester has done and saying how can it apply to Cornwall businesses," he added.

"Manchester have introduced a charge per night, but it is a business improvement district legislation. We have hotels, catering, holiday parks - whereas they have hotels - so their model doesn't work here.

"Perhaps it could work down here but a huge consideration should be can it give our community, its products and our environment? Let's have some positive interaction and dialogue around it. We might conclude the tax is not right or appropriate and the cost of the implementation itself is too much."